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Search for PM Material: ONGOING POLL YEAR TAMASHA, By Dr S Saraswathi, 12 March, 2013 Print E-mail

Events & Issues

New Delhi, 12 March 2013      


Search for PM Material


By Dr S Saraswathi

(Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)


A growing demand on the two major national parties – the Congress and the BJP -- to announce their prime ministerial candidate before elections is getting shriller. In fact, it has become a point of confrontation between them sounding like both a challenge and a provocation to each other.


Recall that such a demand was not heard as a serious poll year issue in the last 15th Lok Sabha elections though the race for prime ministership was not absent and at times was even bitter.


General elections 2014 in India has already become “the” forthcoming event most talked about everywhere from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. Theoretically modeled on the Westminster pattern but with a carefully drafted written Constitution drawing many ideas from other democracies, the Indian parliamentary democracy is unique in its own way. It has made some original contributions in running a parliamentary system which shows that the system can work in ways other than the model it has copied.


The post of the Prime Minister does not emanate from any law in Britain. Like other members of the House of Commons, the Prime Minister is also one elected to represent a constituency. This is in sharp contrast to the direct election of the President in the presidential system of the American democracy.


The Indian Constitution provides for a Council of Ministers with the Prime Minister as the head to aid and advise the President in the exercise of his functions. And, the Prime Minister is appointed by the President.


Since the beginning of the 20th century, all the Prime Ministers in Britain have been members of the House of Commons.  Prior to 1902, some had come from the House of Lords. With the reduction of the powers of the House of Lords in 1911 under the Parliament Act, the convention is for the Prime Minister to be drawn from the Lower House only.


In India, however, the Prime Minister can be a member of either House of Parliament. If a non-member is appointed, he should become a member within six months. 


At the recent BJP National Council meeting held in Delhi, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi stated a real but ignored fact that the question of the talk about who would be the Prime Minister was futile. Ever since his powerful development-centred speech earlier in a prestigious college in the Capital, and the subsequent eloquent oration in the National Council meeting, interesting and provocative rumours are making the rounds of his growing chances of being named as the prime ministerial candidate of the BJP or a BJP-led coalition government at the Centre. No wonder, such rumours are instantly received with approbation by approvers and with suspicion by others.  


On the other side, the elevation of Rahul Gandhi to Number 2 position in the Congress as Vice-President, behind his mother as the President is interpreted by many as a prelude to his candidature for prime ministership for the Congress or a Congress-led coalition government after elections. In fact, this elevation within the party, which only confirms officially the existing de facto position according to some independent observers, is not a necessary stepping stone for entry into Government.


Rahul Gandhi’s denial since then that he is neither in the race for this post nor has an ambition for power and position has introduced an interesting new situation. It nullifies the expectations raised earlier in the statement of some party loyalists about “prime ministerial material” in this young leader.


Importantly, the Prime Minister is not a figure head in the Indian democracy. He is the real head of the Government. In the present atmosphere of highly complex politics, and extremely difficult economic conditions to cope with, being head of the Government is not an easy job or an attractive position. That person must be extraordinarily resourceful keeping abreast of what is happening around and must be conciliatory in approach. He must enjoy not only the support of his/her party and alliance partners but also the confidence of the entire nation.


The Prime Minister is and should be seen as the Prime Minister of the nation and not of any particular party or combination of parties. His personal qualities and official thinking must reflect the good of the nation as a whole. Though he belongs to a political party, he has to hold the scales evenly between various parties. His attachment to his Party must be ideological only and not personal.


In this era of uncertain electoral verdicts and post-poll alliances of parties to form governments, many Presidents have faced problems in identifying a leader who can form the Government. President R Venkataraman wanted to establish a rule of inviting mechanically the largest party in the Lok Sabha which meant in 1989 a ridiculous situation of inviting the leader of the defeated party. The same principle followed in 1996 led to the fall of the Vajpayee government in 13 days.


The principle has since been altered and the practice of ascertaining the ability of the leader to show convincing majority support in writing has been evolved.  The coalition governments headed by Deve Gowda in 1996, LK Gujral in 1997, Vajpayee in 1998 and 1999, and of Manmohan Singh in 2004 and 2009 have been formed on the written support of majority in the Lok Sabha.


The difficulty in selecting a leader acceptable to all the coalition partners has not been an easy job for the alliances. This is what led Vajpayee in 1999 after his defeat in the confidence motion by one vote, to challenge the Opposition Congress eager to form an alternative government to name their Prime Minister.


The Congress which was then averse to coalition government wanted to form a minority government with outside support. But, a prospective ally backed out on the leadership issue. It was the difficulty of alliance partners to agree on their leader that compelled President K R Narayanan to agree to dissolve the Lok Sabha and call for a fresh mandate in 1999.


Selecting the Prime Minister is fraught with serious consequences to the longevity of the Government itself in coalitions formed by numerous small parties with no acknowledged leader. Indian democracy has witnessed this several times – in the Janata rule, National Front and United Front governments. Perhaps, India’s search for a Prime Minister in 2014 may not start and stop with the two national parties as party politics stands today.


“One man, one post” is a principle sporadically applied in the Congress. It was seriously considered in the 1990s and a committee even recommended official adoption of this dictum. Again in 2008, it reappeared in the form of avoiding entrustment of party work to ministers and then relieving ministers of their ministerial responsibility to engage in party work. But, in practice a clear bifurcation has not been possible. The BJP’s party constitution has adopted the principle of “one man, one post”.  Its practicability is not fully discovered yet.


In this background, it is certainly futile to talk of prime ministerial candidate or the material with which he/she is made. There is no constitutional or conventional obligation on the parties to project any candidate as their Prime Minister. Why all this fuss then?---INFA                                                


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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